"The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps." -Marsellus Wallace, Pulp Fiction
Generally speaking, men have a lot of pride. Maybe even too much
pride. But that's not our fault, is it, guys? Of course not. Pride is hard-coded into our DNA, right next to "farts are funny" and "Look! Boobies!" If it hadn't been, cave men would have spent their short lives cowering in a cave instead of venturing boldly forth to get squashed by wooly mammoths or eaten by sabertooth tigers.
But pride often backfires because it prevents men from recognizing their limitations. Why else do you think Evel Knievel spent 79 percent of his adult life being fed by an intravenous drip from the comfort of his full body cast? Because that stubborn bastard never figured out it was impossible to jump his motorcycle over 10 cars, three school buses and the Grand Canyon at the same time. Then again, his idiocy gave us that classic Happy Days
episode where Fonzie water-skied over a shark
. So I guess everything worked out okay.
Pickup ballers are as prideful as anybody. They'd have to be to attempt some of the dumbass shots I've seen (and tried) over my pickup career. Forget trick shots -- behind the backboard, halfcourt, fullcourt, etc. -- players regularly take ridiculous shots during actual games. Three-pointers from several feet behind the arc, double-clutch reverse layups, off-balance jumpers that are chucked up after a wild spin move while fading away...I could describe a hundred insane shots. Maybe a thousand.
Why do they happen? It's not because these people are retarded, even if their shot selection screams "special needs." It's because there's a tiny voice inside every man saying: You can do this. You can hit that shot.
Pride is most evident in good players because they're the ones who have the ball most of the time. Their mistakes are magnified. But it's not just the pickup league superstars. The pickup scrubs can be just as prideful. Take my buddy Paul for example. He has what you'd call "limited basketball skills." He's tall and does a decent job on the boards, but his every layup attempt is an adventure in the same way taking a bath in a tub full of live sewer rats would be an adventure. Poor Paul is our league's unofficial all-time leader in airballed layups.
The sad thing is, 90 percent of his layups are so wide open he could leave the gym, drive to another gym, spend an hour ot two practicing layups, drive back to the first gym and then take his shot before the defense recovers. And he still misses. Some of his problem is mental -- he wigs out because
he misses so many layups, which usually results in another botched layup -- and the rest of the problem is that his arms work like unbending plastic rods.
A year or so ago, Paul joined my gym and asked if we could practice together. When we met up, he asked me quite sincerely if there was anything he could do to improve his game. I told him to practice layups. He snorted. I told him I was serious. He laughed. I told him, no, I was really
serious. Now he choked out a nervous laugh.
"Layups?" he asked. "You aren't kidding around?"
"Paul," I said, "what's your biggest problem on a nightly basis?"
"Missing layups," he said.
"So...?" I asked.
"I'm not practicing layups."
And that was that. The idea of practicing layups was too embarrassing for him. Considering how many offensive rebounds he pulls down (because nobody blocks him out) and how many wide open layups he gets (because nobody guards him), I'm telling you: Paul could become a real force in our pickup league because the effort and hustle are there. But he doesn't want to lower himself to practicing the "easiest" shot in the game.
Here's another example. There's a guy named Keith in our pickup league. Keith played Division I ball for a major NCAA school. He is very fucking good. He is a legitimate pickup league superstar. One night last session, he got hot from downtown. I mean really hot. His defender kept pushing him further and further out, and he just kept shooting. By the end, he was chucking 'em up from halfcourt...and hitting them. There wasn't a damn thing anybody could do to stop him.
When he pulls down a rebound, I half-wonder if the ball is going to explode between his Hulk-like hands. When he drives to the basket, people duck out of his way. Everything Keith does is impressive. Well, everything except playing defense. Don't get me wrong. His D is great when he's motivated to play it. It's just that he usually isn't motivated. Especially when he's guarding a perimeter player who moves a lot without the ball. When that happens, Keith just sort of sags off his man and concedes open jump shots.
There was a game last Spring where Keith was guarding my buddy Brent, who is a streaky three-point shooter. Brent hustles for his shots, and Keith clearly didn't want to chase him around the arc. As a result, Brent got open three after open three, and he was knocking most of them down. I was on Keith's team, and it was driving me nuts.
After we lost our second game because of Brent's three-point shooting, I went up to Keith and said, "Hey, you want me to take him?" I figured Keith would be happy to switch over to my man, who wasn't contributing much offensively. But my asking sparked Keith's pride. "Nah, man, I got this," he said.
But he didn't have it. And Brent kept getting -- and making -- open shots. The only thing that really changed was that our team won. So afterwards Keith came up and said, "See? I told you I had it."
Pride can manifest in all sorts of crazy ways. One time this player we called Backward Hat Guy was checking the ball in at the top of the key. Evil Ted was guarding him, so BHG handed the ball to ET. For whatever reason, ET turned around to make sure everybody was in position, then bounced the ball between his legs to BHG before turning back to face him. BHG took this as a pretty serious insult and demanded an immediate recheck from a confused ET.
Speaking of ET, there was a game last session where ET had the oddest mini tantrum I have ever witnessed in pickup ball. ET and I were on opposite teams. My team ended up a little stacked, and we were clobbering ET's team. It was one of those blowout situations where the winning team basically stops playing defense. A guy name Bruno, who isn't exactly a crack defender to begin with, was guarding ET. Well, in theory. In reality, he wasn't even within 10 feet of ET on most possessions, so ET was getting all sorts of uncontested jumpers. Finally, ET posted up and hit a hook shot over Bruno, who was standing there, hands at his sides, not even looking at ET.
Before his shot had even cleared the net, ET screamed, "Fucking guard
me, Bruno!" That was the first and only time I have ever seen a pickup baller get pissed off because somebody wasn't guarding him.
You know what really pokes pickup ballers in their pride gland? Female players. When a guy plays against a girl, his pride will take things in one of two directions. Either he will act like he's playing against a 5-year-old -- not trying to score against her on offense, letting her do whatever she wants on defense -- or he will become ridiculously overaggressive, charging over her on drives, trying to swat every shot she takes, etc.
One time, Backward Hat Guy (whom we've already established is kind of an asshole) was guarding this girl named Tanya. He was all over
her on defense, constantly trying to swipe at or steal the ball from her. This culminated in a moment where, while guarding her from behind, he reached around and made a two-handed grab at the ball...and got two handfuls of breast instead. Everybody just stopped and looked at him. It was hilarious. And he backed off a little after that.
Pride will also keep players from trying hard, because if they slack and fail, it's because they weren't really trying. It's much more humiliating to try hard and fail anyway. Pride will prevent good players from making an honest effort against bad players. It will cause people to start fights over stupid things, or call phantom fouls, or complain about the quality of their teammates, or refuse to admit when they've committed a traveling violation, so on and so fourth.
Like Mr. Wallace said, pride only hurts, it never helps.
Labels: Pride, The Seven Deadly Pickup Sins